Mindfulness and Anxiety
Mindfulness practice, at its core, is the opposite of an anxious mind.
Posted Feb 08, 2020
"There have been many tragedies in my life, but most of them have not happened." —Mark Twain
Anxiety lives in fears of the future that haven't happened yet. How often does what you worry about actually happen? Take a second to reflect on the last spiral of worry that took over you. While bad things do happen, the odds are that it was much worse in your mind than what happened or what may happen.
The truth is, most of what we worry about never happens. Not only do the things we often worry about happen at a higher frequency in our mind than in reality, but we also frequently underestimate our coping skills, if it did actually happen. Think about the last time the "bad thing" did happen. Unless it was a crisis or tragedy, the odds are that it wasn't as bad as you thought; you may have even surprised yourself with how well you coped!
We're hardwired to be perceiving and responding to threats. It's what has kept us alive evolutionarily; other mammals can fight with fangs and claws, but we are "thinking mammals." We can hardly spend a few moments without thinking. This makes sense, as it's what has kept us alive. This often causes an emergency response, despite the veracity of the actual threat.
Fear (the core of anxiety, really) is our body's ancient response to perceived peril, no matter how negligible it actually is. It can present itself as a stress-related physical symptom, making us desperate to get rid of it. This constant state of worry and threat-scanning and detection can wear us down. This can make us avoid any danger signs, even when they often are just signs.
Unfortunately, this is often a trap. What we constantly avoid, we strengthen (i.e., the confrontational conversation or passing by the area where you were robbed), reinforcing its danger, no matter how harmless it may be and usually is.
Our propensity to plan, especially when it stems from anxiety, can also easily become excessive and counterproductive, taking us away from the pleasure and richness of the moment, the only time we can actually feel joy, happiness, pleasure, and peace. We're also conditioned by capitalism to look for the next thing, taking us away from the now, and everything is usually OK right now unless it's an emergency or crisis. This is where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness practice, nonjudgmental present-moment awareness, rewires the brain toward staying and savoring the present moment, instead of dwelling on anxiety, which is often living the state of perceived fears. In mindfulness practice, we learn the wisdom in prioritizing. Things that we're worrying about often aren't urgent.
It's easy to forget you have time to deal with many of the stressors you chronically worry about, and you've dealt with them well your whole life! In fact, thinking about bad things happening is worse than just dealing with them! Showing up 20 minutes late to the event wasn't that bad after all, right?
Worry can also, covertly, feel enjoyable; it's easy to worry even when everything is OK now. I'm personally an expert at this. The mind can think that worry is what prevented something bad from happening, which can mistakenly reinforce it, despite its factual falseness. Worry often tricks us into thinking we're "taking action" to prevent danger, when we may actually be reinforcing it.
Mindfulness practice helps you see and prevent these mental pitfalls from decreasing your unnecessary suffering and worrying. What can be better than that? When stuck in traffic, do you want to be fuming like everyone else, or kicking back, relaxing, at ease, savoring life's blessings? Mindfulness reveals this choice for you, no matter how elusive it felt prior.